Book Review: A Boy Named Shel

a boy named shelA Boy Named Shel
by Lisa Rogak
226 pages
Published 2007

Shel Silverstein’s birthday was yesterday, so I re-read my copy of Where The Sidewalk Ends on Tuesday, and I’ve been sharing my favorite poems over on Twitter. My library managed to send the biography of Shel Silverstein to me VERY quickly, so I raced through it yesterday to review it today!

I actually had no idea how much content Silverstein actually created. He wrote plays, songs, poems, short stories, cartoons, and collaborated on screenplays. He traveled extensively, had houses in multiple places, stayed in the Playboy Mansion A LOT, and generally seems to have kept up an incredibly frenetic pace of living. I really only knew about his children’s books, and now I need to hunt down the books he wrote for adults! I did find Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book which is 80 pages of “Thanks I Hate It.” Just – ridiculous, subversive, hilarious writing. I want to track down Different Dances and Take Ten, two more of his books for adults.

Lisa Rogak’s writing is incredibly easy to read, but one thing did annoy me. When talking about people she’ll switch between using their first names and their last names with no rhyme or reason. Which makes me think she’s talking about two different people, but she’s not. She needs to pick one and stick to it so I know who she’s talking about. Other than that, Rogak is an excellent biographer, and I might look up her back catalog to see who else she has written about!

A Boy Named Shel is an excellent, highly readable story of an absolute icon. Shel Silverstein was a powerhouse of creativity, and it’s actually a little sad that he’s best known for his children’s books, considering just how many other genres he had his hands in. Great book.

From the cover of A Boy Named Shel:

The first-ever biography of the one-of-a-kind author who created The Giving Tree, Where The Sidewalk Ends, and A Light in the Attic.

Few authors are as beloved as Shel Silverstein. His inimitable drawings and comic poems have become the bedtime staples of millions of children and their parents, but few readers know much about the man behind that wild-eyed, bearded face peering out from the back of the dust jacket.

In A Boy Named Shel, Lisa Rogak tells the full story of a life as antic and adventurous as any of his creations. A man with an incurable case of wanderlust, Shel kept homes on both coasts and many places in between – and enjoyed regular stays in the Playboy Mansion. Everywhere he went he charmed neighbors, made countless friends, and romanced almost as many women with his unstoppable energy and never-ending wit. 

His boundless creativity brought him fame and fortune – neither of which changed his down-to-earth way of life – and his children’s books sold millions of copies. But he was much more than “just” a children’s writer. He collaborated with anyone who crossed his path, and found success in a wider range of genres than most artists could ever hope to master. He penned hit songs like “A Boy Named Sue” and “The Unicorn.” He drew cartoons for Stars and Stripes and got his big break with Playboy. He wrote experimental plays and collaborated on scripts with David Mamet. With a seemingly unending stream of fresh ideas, he worked compulsively and enthusiastically on a wide array of projects up until his death, in 1999.

Drawing on wide-ranging interviews and in-depth research, Rogak gives fans a warm, enlightening portrait of an artist whose imaginative spirit created the poems, songs, and drawings that have touched the lives of so many children – and adults.

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